Best Small Towns in Europe
We have all heard tales of long lines to see the "Mona Lisa" at the Louvre in Paris or the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. We've read stories of cities like Barcelona and Venice wanting to cap tourism as they become overwhelmed with out-of-towners. But rarely do we hear about the small towns that make up Europe — the places were people live, work and play, but which do not see an influx of travelers.
It's here where you truly get a sense of Europe and the varying cultures of its multiple nations. Without hordes of tourists, locals devote time to the people who have made an effort to visit their towns. And though small, these towns and villages — with fewer than 15,000 residents — aren't short on attractions, stunning landscapes, or delicious restaurants and cafes.
At these best-of-the-best European small towns, ranked from most to least populated, fall in love with storybook settings sans the crowds.
35. Nesvizh, Belarus
Why it’s a great small town: Nesvizh was built around the castle of the same name, a palace dating back to the 1600s that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site today. With a baroque interior and ornamental gardens, the castle is considered to be the country's most beautiful, and draws in visitors going off the beaten path.
Fun fact: The castle was home to the Radziwill royal family before they were kicked out during the Soviet era. John F. Kennedy's sister-in-law married into this family and was a princess.
34. Fussen, Germany
Why it’s a great small town: If you seek a charming Bavarian town for an upcoming trip, look no further than Fassen. King Ludwig loved the area so much, he built his romantic Neuschwanstein Castle here, overlooking the town by a lake. You'll also discover the pedestrian-only Altstadt (Old Town) filled with cobblestones and colorful buildings in this town that is seven centuries old.
Fun fact: Neuschwanstein Castle is said to be the inspiration for Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty castle.
33. Sillamäe, Estonia
Why it’s a great small town: This seaside town has long been a summer resort, particularly for wealthy Russian families in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Its northernmost location in Estonia positions it just over the border from Finland, and its buildings evoke its Soviet past.
Fun fact: As a Soviet-era town, Sillamäe was kept a secret and left off of maps.
32. Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
Why it’s a great small town: This Czech town, which is divided by the Vltava River, is located in the south of Bohemia, the region where, it's believed, the term "Bohemian" comes from. Here awaits a castle with elements from Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods, as it was first constructed in the 13th century and underwent additions through the 17th century. The entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that looks like it was plucked out of a fairy tale.
Combine a visit with a trip to Prague, a two-hour drive away, for a sense of European charm in a major and minor key.
Fun fact: The town's name comes from the German "Krumme Aue," or "crooked meadow," perhaps for the river running snakelike throughout it.
31. Škofja Loka, Slovenia
Why it’s a great small town: Slovenia is beginning its tourism boom as travelers seek new experiences. In Škofja Loka, visitors can discover another European fairy-tale town considered a jewel of the country. The most-preserved medieval town in Slovenia, it houses 16th-century buildings that were resurrected to rejuvenate the area after it was devastated by an earthquake in 1511.
Spend a quiet few days here, or make a day trip from Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana, a short half-hour drive away.
Fun fact: The town's monastery has a library filled with 30,000 books.
30. Sinaia, Romania
Why it’s a great small town: Leave it to Romania to fill its countryside with stunning castles, including the Sinaia Monastery (shown), a former royal residence and one of the best preserved palaces in Europe. Next door is a smaller timbered castle, adding to the mountain resort's allure to both skiers and hikers, depending on the season.
Fun fact: Inside Peles Palace, find frescoes by world-renowned artist Gustav Klimt.
29. Dobele, Latvia
Why it’s a great small town: Located in central Latvia, Dobele dates back to the Stone Age and is filled with ruins, including a castle that once was home to knights of the Crusade and members of the Recke Dynasty. There is a festival dedicated to the medieval castle every summer where knights battle each other for the hand of a fair maiden.
Fun fact: More than 200 lilac trees planted in the mid-1900s help make up the largest lilac garden in Europe. The town's annual festival celebrating this flower is called the Metropolis of Lilac.
28. Vaduz, Lichenstein
Why it’s a great small town: The second-largest town in the small country of Liechtenstein can be found along the Rhine River and is home to a castle of the same name. The home of the royal family in the 12th century, Vaduz remains the capital of the nation that sits on the border of Switzerland.
Fun fact: The are more companies registered in Liechtenstein than there are people living here, and it's one of the richest countries in the world.
27. Göynük Town, Turkey
Why it’s a great small town: This isolated city in the mountains is home to Ottoman architecture and mosques, Turkish baths and a maze of narrow streets. Located in the foothills of the Bolu Mountains, Göynük Town is about four hours from bustling Istanbul and provides a more intimate taste of Turkey.
Fun fact: When Turkey won its independence in 1923, the three-story wooden Victory Tower was added to the hill above the town.
26. Positano, Italy
Why it’s a great small town: The cliffside dwellings climbing from its beaches make Positano one of the most beautiful towns along Italy's famed Amalfi Coast. Filled with narrow streets, charming cafes, bustling boutiques and the iconic Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta church, the town's best side is seen from the water, so take a boat or ferry ride when you visit.
Fun fact: "Under the Tuscan Sun," starring Diane Lane, filmed scenes in Positano, which was the first town on the Amalfi Coast.
25. Marsaxlokk, Malta
Why it’s a great small town: On the quaint island of Malta, off the coast of Sicily, fishing is a way of life. In Marsaxlokk, you'll see a colorful collection of fishing boats floating in the nearly clear-blue sea. These boats, known as Iuzzus, date back to the ancient Phoenicians.
Eating fresh seafood from one of the restaurants overlooking the sea is simply a must. But also make time to explore the city's collection of historic structures, such as the 17th-century St. Lucian Tower.
Fun fact: "Assassin's Creed" (the movie) filmed at the cliff-face Fort Delimara.
24. Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France
Why it’s a great small town: Just outside of Nice and the renowned beaches of Southern France awaits one of the oldest medieval towns in the area. Actually, Saint-Paul-de-Vence is a commune, not a town, and its nearby sister city of Éze (population 2,343) often gets more tourists and notice, as it overlooks the sea. But in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, art galleries and museums are at every turn as you stroll through tiny cobbled streets that wind around a hilltop vista.
Fun fact: Artists have long loved this commune, including Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall, who lived here for 20 years.
23. Arundel, England
Why it’s a great small town: Step back into merry Olde England in this West Sussex town where Tudor-style buildings and a medieval castle are on display. The restored and remodeled castle was built in 1067, a year after William the Conqueror conquered England. Arundel Castle was the family home of the Duke of Norfolk and has been with his aristocratic family, the Howards, for more than four centuries.
Fun fact: The ancestral Howard home was also home to a queen: Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII.
22. Stein am Rhein, Switzerland
Why it’s a great small town: Choosing a destination to visit in Switzerland can be difficult, as the majority of the country is filled with snow-covered Alpine mountains, glacier-filled translucent lakes and picture-perfect cities like Geneva, Zurich and Basel. But don't overlook, as too many do, Stein am Rhein, where preserved medieval homes provide an opportunity to feel what life was like in the Middle Ages. The city's name nods to its scenic Rhine River location, and its Old Town, surrounded by pastel-colored buildings, is not to be missed.
Fun fact: Stein am Rhein's Hohenklingen Castle dates back to 1200.
21. Rajecké Teplice, Slovakia
Why it’s a great small town: This intimate spa town dates back to the 1300s, when it first welcomed visitors who came for the healing medicinal hot springs. At the start of the 1600s, spa houses were developed to cater to wealthy visitors, and the town has continued to up its spa game with new and improved resorts geared toward enjoying Slovakia's natural hot springs — the largest of which, Aphrodite, is pictured here.
Fun fact: You can visit stunning waterfalls at the nearby Sunny Rocks nature reserve in the Sul ov Hills.
20. Chervone, Ukraine
Why it’s a great small town: Founded in 1624, this village in the hilly Zhytomyr region of Ukraine features the ruins of the Tereshchenko Castle. Built in the neo-Gothic style, the palace became home to the family who dominated the country's sugar industry, with a factory in Chervone erected in 1870.
Fun fact: The sugar industry in Ukraine makes up 7 percent of the country's agriculture.
19. Bantry, Ireland
Why it’s a great small town: Located on Ireland's southwest coast, this 17th-century fishing village is filled with brightly colored homes and shops in a quaint, yet cosmopolitan, center. Less than an hour from Cork, the town comes alive with festivals every summer, including the West Cork Chamber Music Festival, the West Cork Literary Festival and the Masters of Tradition Festival, featuring beloved Irish tunes.
Fun fact: The 18th-century Bantry House and Garden offers panoramic views of the bay after climbing 100 steps.
18. Giethoorn, Netherlands
Why it’s a great small town: Considered the Dutch Venice, Giethoorn is a practically car-free town consisting of tons of canals — nearly 60 miles of them, in fact! Visitors can rent "whisper boats" to traverse the canals, which is how homeowners get around in this green destination that focuses on silence, boating and biking.
Fun fact: You may have caught a glimpse of Giethoorn on season 31 of "The Amazing Race."
17. Husavik, Iceland
Why it’s a great small town: When visiting remote Iceland, it's easy just to explore Reyjavik — it's near the airport and offers the country's most tourist-friendly infrastructure. But make time also to visit Husavik, on the island's north coast. Rather than experiencing only the cosmopolitan city life, see an intimate fishing village that better represents Iceland and its people.
Fun fact: Husavik is the oldest settlement in Iceland and is the island's whale capital.
16. Brela, Croatia
Why it’s a great small town: Once "Game of Thrones" became a smash, visits to Croatia spiked. The majority of the people traveling to this Eastern European country head to Dubrovnik and Zagreb. But as those cities face over-tourism challenges, you'd be wise so leave them behind for Brela, along the Dalmatian coast.
This charming town is nestled between the beach and a mountain and is an outdoor-lovers' paradise offering excellent opportunities for kayaking and diving.
Fun fact: Brela is home to a special type of Maraska cherry, the Sokoluša, that has many health benefits and, at one time, provided the only source of income for inhabitants.
15. Oia, Greece
Why it’s a great small town: When you think of the Greek Isles, Oia is what you are picturing. This city on Santorini is covered in white-washed buildings (to keep them cool) nestled into the volcanic caldera. Facing the west, this is the place to be for sunset-watching while drinking ouzo, the traditional Grecian aperitif.
Fun fact: Oia is pronounced "eea."
14. Smogen, Sweden
Why it’s a great small town: During the summer months, the colorful island of Smogen becomes a lively party town. The nightlife here may not be as big as New York City's, but the people will try their hardest to prove they can have just as good of a time. By day, visitors can take in the sounds of a raucous fish auction and the sights of idyllic gardens.
Fun fact: The town is home to its own single malt Swedish Whisky distillery.
13. Albarracín, Spain
Why it’s a great small town: There are so many beautiful villages across Spain that can take you off the beaten path, but Albarracín, in the central part of the country, stands out thanks to its 10th-century surrounding walls. Uncover the Moorish history of this clifftop town, complete with narrow streets and buildings from the beginning of civilization.
Fun fact: Spain voted Albarracín the most beautiful village in the country in 2018.
12. Beddgelert, Wales
Why it’s a great small town: This village in Northern Wales was home to the 13th century King of Wales, Llewelyn. Referred to as Llewelyn the Great, he ruled Wales for nearly half a century. The village retains its medieval charm and is located in the heart of Snowdonia, near Eryri national park.
Fun fact: Snowdonia has been called the Adventure Capital of Europe for its hiking, mountain biking, surfing and zip lining.
11. Inveraray, Scotland
Why it’s a great small town: Set along a picturesque mirror-like lake is this gateway to the Scottish Highlands that's been the ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll since the mid-1700s. You can tour the home and may run into the family, the current Duke and his wife (of the Cadbury chocolate family).
Fun fact: The Duke of Argyll's home, Inveraray Castle, is home to the youngest Duke of Scotland and has appeared as a reoccurring setting on "Downton Abbey."
10. Monsanto, Portugal
Why it’s a great small town: The entire town of Monsanto is built into boulders, with houses often carved right into the mountainside. Streets writhing through the rocks are lined with red-roof buildings that have hardly changed since the village was created in the 12th century.
Fun fact: The town is proud of its distinction as Portugal's most Portuguese town, an honor bestowed upon it in 1938.
9. Hallstatt, Austria
Why it’s a great small town: When you think of Austria, you think of the Alps. And no other Alpine town is as adorable as Hallstatt, where 16th-century homes remain as charming as ever. You'll find window boxes filled with flowers during the summer, mountains covered in snow in the winter, and lake views year-round.
Fun fact: The town's name means "place of salt," which is fitting, as the mineral is mined in the region. You can even visit a salt mine deep underground.
8. Zalipie, Poland
Why it’s a great small town: Famous for its homes, wells, barns and practically anything with a surface being painted with flowers, Zalipie is known as Poland's Painted Village. The folk art tradition has made Zalipie a tourist attraction, with many visiting from nearby Tarnów.
Fun fact: The paintings began when housewives decided to improve the look of their homes in the late 19th century.
7. Gudhjem, Denmark
Why it’s a great small town: A visit to this harbor town fronting the Baltic Sea affords fantastic views, chalk cliffs and white-sand beaches. So picturesque is the village that it's drawn many artists and painters, whose works hang in the Bornholm Art Museum.
Fun fact: The village is located in Denmark's sunniest region, Bornholm.
6. Durbuy, Belgium
Why it’s a great small town: If we could step into a Disney movie, we would end up in a place that looks a lot like Durbuy. This town of stone-walled houses with slate roofs promotes itself as "the smallest city of the world," but makes up for its size with an abundance of fanciful architecture — not to mention the largest topiary garden in the world.
Fun fact: Durbuy is home to an annual reconstructed labyrinth for an additional garden adventure.
5. Hollóko, Hungary
Why it’s a great small town: The entire village of Hollóko is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which dates back to the 13th century. Just over an hour from Budapest, the village was formed around a castle to protect itself from Mongol invaders.
Fun fact: Hollóko's Easter parade and festival draws thousands to see Palóc costumes and traditions.
4. Przno, Montenegro
Why it’s a great small town: While crowds are descending upon nearby Croatia's seaside villages and cities, they are missing the similar stylings, sans the crowds, of Montenegro. Przno is considered an elite destination on the Adriatic Sea, with beautiful beaches to explore.
Fun fact: The Sveti Stefan hotel is operated by Aman Resorts, one of the most high-end hotel companies in the world.
3. Esch-sur-Sûre, Luxembourg
Why it’s a great small town: Dating back to the 700s, Esch-sur-Sûre bore witness to Charlemagne's reign. Over the course of centuries, its castle, first built in the 900s, grew in size during the First Crusade and during the reign of the Roman Empire through the mid-16th century.
When France's King Louis XIV took control of Luxembourg, he destroyed the fortresses and castles of the country, yet Esch-sur-Sûre's ramparts were saved as houses were built into them, and remain to this very day.
Fun fact: Victor Hugo, the author of "Les Misérables" and "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame," visited Esch-sur-Sûre's castle and is said to have been inspired by it.
2. Reine, Norway
Why it’s a great small town: Travel within the Arctic Circle with a visit to Reine, part of a string of the Lofoten archipelago of Islands. As the Northern Lights dance above you in the darkness of night, this picturesque village will provide everything you'd expect of a visit to Norway.
Fun fact: Visitors typically stay in rorbuer, traditional fishing cabins converted into tourist accommodations.
1. Perast, Montenegro
Why it’s a great small town: Croatia may be hot right now, but its neighboring country of Montenegro is lesser traveled and offers similar seaside, red-roofed medieval villages. Perast is slightly more modern, with its 17th- and 18th-century baroque buildings harkening back to when the Venetian Empire extended to its Adriatic Sea shores.
Don't miss a visit to Sveti Djordje, one of Perast's two islands, which houses a Benedictine monastery and has a reputation for being cursed.
Fun fact: Perast has more than 240 sunny days a year.